Israel set to face Syria chemical weapons threat

Sources close to the Israel Defence Force said soldiers have been put on standby and are ready to move.

Updated: Jul 29, 2012, 16:48 PM IST

Washington: Israeli soldiers and civilians are preparing for possible military action to make sure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad`s chemical weapons don`t fall into the hands of terrorist groups.

Sources close to the Israel Defence Force said soldiers have been put on standby and are ready to move, while civilian demand for gas masks has jumped 66 percent over the last few weeks from 2,200 to 3,700 per day.

The fears centre around the prospect of Islamic militant group, Hezbollah, getting Syrian chemical weapons as the Assad regime shows imminent signs of collapse.

"Israel will not hold back and will respond decisively if this happens," Fox News quoted Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, as saying.

Hezbollah, supported by both Syria and Iran, who has long called for the destruction of Israel, is the prime candidate to take possession of the armaments. Speculation is mounting about when and how Israel will deal with the prospect of chemical weapons being spirited away during the chaos of Assad`s likely fall, Fox News said.

"It appears the IDF may seek to eliminate Syria`s ability to transport the weapons to proxy forces but not to eliminate the actual weapons themselves by striking at storage facilities. Israel`s main interest is to ensure the weapons are not passed on to the likes of Hezbollah in south Lebanon," said Idan Kweller, a political correspondent for Israel Army Radio.

The potential breakdown of the Syrian regime has reportedly paved the way for any number of Islamist terror groups, including al Qaeda, to blend in with the Free Syrian Army, giving them cover to get at the a chemical weapons stockpile Assad acknowledges having. That could potentially pose a massive threat to Israel`s security and inflict significant civilian casualties, according to experts.

Meanwhile, the race to locate the chemical weapons has reportedly been taxing a number of international security agencies, including the CIA, desperate to ensure the arms won`t fall into the wrong hands and spark an all-out regional war. One report suggested that a group of Jordanian commandoes had been sent into Syria to try and recover the weapons, while Turkey`s intelligence agency is another with good reason to fear unaccounted for weapons.